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The news at a glance

Commodities: Gold hits record high; Oil services: Halliburton earnings boom; Euro banks: Exposed to sovereign debt; Music: Spotify launches in the U.S.; Internet: Google’s profits up

Commodities: Gold hits record high
The price of gold hit a record high of $1,600 per ounce this week as investors scrambled to find a safe haven from U.S. default fears and continued difficulties in the eurozone. Investors consider the metal an “age-old stalwart in troubled times,” said Aaron Smith in CNNMoney.com, and that sentiment has caused its price to more than double since December 2008. Gold makes sense as a hedge against market uncertainty, but part of its allure is surely emotional, said Clayton Collins in CSMonitor.com. During hard times, its “comforting weight” leads the human psyche to be “almost instinctually bullish on bullion.”

When adjusted for inflation, today’s gold prices are still lower than they were in 1980, when they reached the equivalent of $2,400 today. Back then high oil prices, rising inflation, and concerns over the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan were what caused investors to buy up gold and drive up its price. But the precious metal’s latest rally may be just the beginning of even more eye-popping prices, said Bloomberg.com. Increased demand from countries like China and India, plus slowing global gold production, could push the price of an ounce beyond $5,000 by 2020.

Oil services: Halliburton earnings boom
Halliburton, the world’s No. 2 oil field services company, reported a 54 percent increase in earnings for the second quarter this week, led by increased demand in the United States for the company’s drilling technology, said Matt Daily and Braden Reddall in Reuters.com. Profits rose to $739 million, or 80 cents per share, compared with $480 million, or 53 cents per share, last year. The jump comes as high global oil prices spur oil producers to exploit onshore U.S. oil and gas reserves in shale rock.

Euro banks: Exposed to sovereign debt
Stress tests of 90 European banks found that just eight would not have the necessary capital cushion to weather a downturn, said Landon Thomas Jr. in The New York Times. Five of the flunking banks were Spanish, two were Greek, and one was Austrian. While the test results were more positive than expected, they revealed in stark terms how exposed many banks are to European sovereign debt, which has long been considered secure but now looks like a liability. But the tests were “badly flawed,” said The Economist, because they “assume that no eurozone default” will occur even though that could well happen.

Music: Spotify launches in the U.S.
The London-based digital music service Spotify launched last week in the U.S., posing a threat to more-established rivals such as Pandora, said Tim Bradshaw in the Financial Times. Spotify’s service, currently by invitation only, allows listeners 10 hours of free music per month before charging between $4.99 and $9.99 for premium services. With 10 million users in Europe, 1.6 million of whom pay, the company’s major advantage over competitors is “its library of 15 million tracks from all the leading labels,” which listeners can select at no charge.

Internet: Google’s profits up
Google announced a 36 percent rise in second-quarter profits, said Amir Efrati in The Wall Street Journal. Spending at the search giant has been steep as the company attempts to fend off competitors like Facebook, but ad revenues from Google’s core search-engine service helped boost earnings. The company is also glowing from the early success of its new social network, Google+, which already has more than 10 million users despite being in a preliminary, invitation-only stage. Google’s quarterly results suggest that the company is “firing on all six cylinders now,” said Internet analyst Jordan Rohan.

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